From the City of Havre de Grace:
City of Havre de Grace files suit against Harford County Government and Members of the County Council in County Council Redistricting Matter.
The City of Havre de Grace announced today it filed suit against Harford County Government and Members of the County Council over violations of the Maryland Open Meetings Act and County Charter Section 205 Redistricting Procedure. The City of Havre de Grace is requesting the court declare any final action by the County Council to enact Bill No. 21-025 (redistricting) as void and of no effect.
The suit filed in the Circuit Court of Harford County alleges the Harford County Council violated multiple provisions of the Maryland Open Meetings Act when the County Council reportedly held secret meetings at the end of October to deliberate on a number of county council redistricting proposals—one of which was later introduced as Harford County Bill No. 21-025 and passed on December 7, 2021. The complaint also argues the County Council violated section 205 of the County Charter when it introduced a single redistricting proposal that was in lieu of the redistricting proposal submitted by the Harford County Redistricting Commission without first acting on the Commission’s Plan.
The Maryland Open Meetings Act requires that when a quorum of a public body such as the Harford County Council meets to consider or transact public business, they must meet in public and give prior notice of its meetings and publish an agenda. Additionally, the law requires public bodies to post meeting minutes after a meeting as soon as practicable.
In the complaint, the City states, “ On information and belief, at the request of the Council President, a quorum of the County Council conducted two or more meetings between October 29th and October 31st for the purpose of deliberating the configuration of the Councilmanic districts and to come to a consensus to present a competing redistricting plan preventing the Commission Plan from taking effect.”
In addition to the violations of the Open Meetings Act, the City is alleging the County Council violated Section 205 of the County Charter when it ignored the Harford County Redistricting Commission’s report. The City references Harford County v. Board of Supervisors of Elections of Harford County. In that case, Judge Close interpreted the county’s redistricting procedure and stated, “They may either accept it or change it. This decision rightly rests in the hands of the duly elected members of the Council, who must start with the recommendations of a non-partisan panel of citizens” when referring to the County Council’s role in redistricting.
“I am deeply troubled by these allegations,” stated Mayor William T. Martin. “It should go without saying that the public’s business should always be conducted in the open for the public to observe, absent well-recognized exceptions to the Open Meetings Act. Since the beginning of the redistricting process, I have urged the County Council to meet in public and introduce the Redistricting Commission’s plan in the form of a bill and modify it, if they saw fit, through amendments. After doing additional research, we believe that previous case law sets the precedent that the Harford County Council must do just that.”
Link to petition: